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© Rosemary Bardsley 2012

This chapter follows on from the rejection Jesus experienced at the hands of the Pharisees and teachers of the law up to this point. Jesus is clearly taking the role of judge as he addresses the crowds and his disciples, describing the defective religion of his opponents and pronouncing a series of seven ‘woes’ upon them.



Leon Morris comments: “This chapter brings us to understand that the Pharisaic system, like any system that puts its emphasis on rules and regulations, all too easily degenerated into the observance of requirements that were doubtless intended to help people along the road to godliness but that could become ends in themselves. When this happened, there was the appearance of godliness, but not the reality; the correct performance of outward rites and the firm hold on orthodox teaching became ends in themselves, and genuine piety suffered. There is a danger in the whole Pharisaic method. Stendahl remarks that Jesus ‘taught with prophetic consciousness in a nation where he found the strongest resistance among those who were its spiritual leaders.’” [page 570]



How did Jesus criticize the Pharisees?

Is there anything like this in Christianity today?







In contrast Jesus instructs the crowds and his disciples to embrace the values of the Kingdom which he had earlier detailed in the Sermon on the Mount.

What values did Jesus instruct his hearers to embrace in verses 8 - 12?




B. THE SEVEN WOES 23:13 - 29

In each of these seven woes Jesus addresses the teachers of the law and the Pharisees as ‘you hypocrites!’ This connects back with the false spirituality he has warned against in verses 2 to 7.  He also addresses them as ‘blind’ several times [verses 17, 19, 24, 26], and accuses them of leading others astray because of it.


The point of judgement

The outcome


They shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces.

They themselves don’t enter the kingdom.

They don’t let others enter who are trying to.


They travel everywhere trying to make one convert

The convert is twice as much a ‘son of hell’ as they are.


They teach that swearing by the gold in the temple or the gift on the altar is more binding than swearing by the temple or the altar.

They are by this demonstrating their blindness, foolishness and lack of understanding.


They give a tenth of spices, but neglect the more important matters of justice, mercy and faithfulness. They did not practice what they preached.

They are blind guides. They ‘strain out a gnat but swallow a camel’.


They clean the outside of the cup and dish but inside they are full of self-indulgence and greed.

They are blind. They should first wash inside the cup or dish; then the outside would be clean.


They are like whited sepulchres – beautiful on the outside, but rotten and filthy within.

They appear to people as righteous, but inside they are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.


They build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. They say they would never have killed the prophets if they had lived back then.

They are testifying against themselves that they are the descendants of the murdered prophets. They are about to fill up the full measure of their forefathers.



Having just identified the teachers of the law and the Pharisees with their forefathers’ sins in murdering the prophets, Jesus continues to expose their hypocrisy in a terrible indictment.

He addresses them as ‘snakes’ and ‘brood of vipers’ [33]. As such he tells them:

  • They cannot escape being condemned to hell [33]
  • He will send them messengers, whom they will treat despicably [34]
  • All the righteous blood shed on the earth from the time of Abel will come upon their generation [35-36]

With this knowledge of their inevitable fate Jesus grieved for them:

  • Despite their murderous rejection of his prophets he longed to gather them to himself [37]
  • But they were not willing [37]
  • Because of this their ‘house is left to you desolate’ [38]
  • They will not see him again [39]

Having rejected the one who is the King, there is nothing left for them but condemnation and desolation.